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Wind developers eager for federal approvals for projects off Long Island

An offshore wind farm at Block Island seen

An offshore wind farm at Block Island seen on. Aug. 14, 2016. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

Offshore wind developers from around the globe are chomping at the bit to offer wind-energy projects for the waters off Long Island's South Shore as the federal government expedites a previously moribund lease process.

During a Long Island Association committee meeting Tuesday, several developers expressed strong interest in proposing projects for the vast area of currently unleased sea bottom off Long Island in a section known as the New York Bight.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had been expected to fully identify and conduct lease auctions in 2020, but the effort stalled under the Trump administration. The Biden administration last month announced plans to reverse that slowdown.

At a federal forum on the South Fork Wind Farm, also on Tuesday, James Bennett, program manager for BOEM, called the New York Bight "one of the top priorities for us."

Bennett said while BOEM will move through prescribed steps to formalize New York sites and conduct lease auctions, he added, "I don't consider them a holdup." He said he "wasn't sure yet" whether the New York lease auction could take place in this calendar year, but "we are indeed working with the [Biden] administration to focus on exactly that."

At the LIA's energy committee meeting, offshore wind developers expressed optimism the process for new lease areas off Long Island would start sooner rather than later.

"We believe federal action is going to come this year," said Damian Bednarz who heads EnBW North America’s external affairs division, a German energy giant. More lease areas will "drive economic investments" in New York offshore wind, he said, and foster more competition, which will mean "better bids" and an "increase in the supply chain" for the region.

Dominik Schwegmann, who heads up development of offshore wind in the Americas for RWE Renewables, said the company views the New York Bight area as a "key focus for us," potentially marking some of the company’s first offshore wind areas in the U.S. market.

"We are hoping to have a very clear and transparent visibility of additional leasing," he said, and the New York Bight "is our top priority," since "adding more leases to the mix will help competition and keep rates low."

Jordan Shoesmith, senior manager of bid development at Vineyard Wind, whose project for the waters off Massachusetts recently saw the Biden administration return its project to the federal review process, called the New York Bight the "most obvious" offshore wind area that could be leased to meet the growing demand from states with aggressive wind-energy targets.

But asked if they would offer projects for waters off the South Fork of Long Island, where New York State has recommended projects should not be offered, most of the companies on the virtual call balked. Shoesmith said it’s "up to the state and federal agencies involved in the leasing" to determine if those East End offshore areas are fair game for wind farms.

The LIA conference took place the same day that the first proposed Long Island offshore wind project, the South Fork Wind Farm by Orsted and Eversource, underwent public comment of a recently released draft environmental impact statement. During the session, East Hampton residents, environmentalists and a local labor group spoke strongly in favor of the project.

Opponents included

Joel Merriman, a campaign director for the American Bird Conservancy, who said while the group was "excited" about the prospect of offshore wind energy, "we can’t support this project or this new industry without more robust consideration for birds."

Environmentalist Adrienne Esposito suggested climate change was a greater threat to birds and the planet. "You don’t protect the bird species by continuing fossil fuels and climate change," she said.

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